Salting our freshwater lakes
The highest densities of lakes on Earth are in north temperate ecosystems, where increasing urbanization and associated chloride runoff can salinize freshwaters and threaten lake water quality and the many ecosystem services lakes provide. However, the extent to which lake salinity may be changing at broad spatial scales remains unknown, leading us to first identify spatial patterns and then investigate the drivers of these patterns. Significant decadal trends in lake salinization were identified using a dataset of long-term chloride concentrations from 371 North American lakes. Landscape and climate metrics calculated for each site demonstrated that impervious land cover was a strong predictor of chloride trends in Northeast and Midwest North American lakes. As little as 1% impervious land cover surrounding a lake increased the likelihood of long-term salinization. Considering that 27% of large lakes in the United States have >1% impervious land cover around their perimeters, the potential for steady and long-term salinization of these aquatic systems is high. This study predicts that many lakes will exceed the aquatic life threshold criterion for chronic chloride exposure (230 mg L⁻¹), stipulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the next 50 y if current trends continue.